Hannah O’Grady, a student at Mount Holyoke College, worked in the lab of Dr. Alex Strauss.
Abstract An important part of understanding how diseases spread and impact a community is understanding the tradeoffs that occur when a parasite generalizes. While sampling ponds in Whitehall Forest we discovered a potentially novel microsporidian that was able to infect at least five zooplankton in the Cladocera superorder at relatively high infection prevalence. We designed an experiment to investigate the potential costs of its generalism. We exposed isoclonal lines of two different species of Daphnia, each from two different lakes, to spores gathered from the dominant host in each lake to test whether the microsporidian was 1) more successful at infecting Daphnia of one species over the other or 2) whether it was more successful at infecting Daphnia from the same lake or 3) the same species from which the parasite spores were gathered. We also counted spore yield (a metric of parasite fitness) from the six infected species gathered from the field to test for differences across species, lakes or time. None of the Daphnia exposed to the spores in the lab became infected, leading us to hypothesize that there is an intermediate host for this parasite. Spore yields from field-collected hosts did differ significantly among host species, with higher spore yields in D. laevis (mean=446,415.55±412,977.53) and Diaphanosoma (mean=253,888.83±78,085.34) than in D. ambigua (mean=40729.12±41,396.68), D. parvula(mean=46250.06±49,432.78), and Simocephalus (mean=17083.17±13,025.14). There were no significant differences in spore yield across lakes or days. More research will be needed to find the intermediate host for the microsporidian as well as to determine its exact genus and species.OGrady